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Turning a Losing 2008 into Hope for 2009

Building a successful college football program requires several key ingredients. Now that the 2008 campaign has concluded for some truly awful programs, the work to build losers into winners has begun. It is appropriate now, to look at some of the significant elements required for building a winning football program. Included on this list are:

- Finding enough Murray State and Western Kentucky football programs to build a schedule around,

- Identifying enough alumni who really believe in the institution’s academic focus to give thousands of hard-earned dollars so they can be entertained on autumn Saturdays, and

- Figuring out a way to lure a few decent athletes that are capable of constructing enough complete sentences to pass Freshman English.
College Coaching's Musical Chairs
Iowa State got really lucky in having its 2-10 coach hired away by – of all people – Auburn. This saved the school from itself when the Cyclone brass offered the former coach a contract extension. Racking up 2008 season wins over South Dakota State and Kent State at the beginning of the season, the Cyclones proceeded to lose everything else. Iowa State then replaced its lost head coach with native Iowan Paul Rhoads. Rhoads brings impressive credentials, a commitment to win in the state of Iowa and comes to the Cyclones from –of all places – Auburn. 2009 will see which school got the best end of this deal.
Surviving Football Withdrawl
How did we as a society get to a point where our daily happiness is dependent on how the alma mater did on the field? This question justifies some exploration as a good chunk of the autumn economy is driven by young, t-shirt clad alumni putting pizza, nachos and beer on their new American Express cards.
Other Football News
The Sage of College Football brings to light some of the strange and ironic twists in the game. For real football news, visit ESPN!
College Football 2008 in Review - A Celebration of Losing
2008 Worst College Football Teams

“Without losers, there wouldn’t be winners” - unknown author, but probably a loser.

As we approach the climax of the college football season, The Sage of College Football (your humble author) suggests that we turn our attention for a few moments to those programs that once held such promise in the late summer months, only to smack their noodles into the frozen artificial turf of December’s reality. For some teams, season ending games conclude with the ritual of tearing down of goalposts. Others result in the school selling off unused hot dogs from the stadium deep freeze to starving students who spent their student loan money on beer.

At the professional level, teams that finish at the bottom refer to this time of year as the beginning of golf season. And given the paychecks of most players and coaches, they don’t have to worry much about competing with retirees for tee times. The one disappointment in 2008 has been that in writing about the college game, the Sage can’t slam the Detroit Lions. The pitiful old motor city franchise looks as it has finally blown all it’s gaskets and not even the team ownership seems to care. At least Lions players get paid something for losing. Professional players have a paycheck coming in and a vacation to look forward to. At the college level though, players on losing teams are compelled to visit their respective Religious Studies Departments to seek inner peace. Their coaches seek employment.

Fans of losing college teams also use the offseason for contemplative reflection. One of the more interesting observations occurs when the over-dedicated fan reviews how much money was spent following the team into the toilet. Season tickets, beer and liquor, nachos and hot dogs and the associated medical bills really add up.

Mental Health experts concluded long ago that dedicating too much time effort and money to one’s team is also hard on relationships. For those fans lucky enough to have identified a different-sex partner to share the misery of a disastrous season, this presents a double-edged sword. On one hand, the fan may have someone with whom to share the burdens of recovery. On the other, the left over bills and charge card accounts may run double. And for what? Seeing their team scrape together one or two wins against lower division opponents?

Sports Information Offices use this time to come up with new promotional ideas. The Sage has always wanted to be in on an SIO meeting after a 1 and 11 campaign. The new promo ideas generally center on how to convince alumni to overlook the annual season ticket price increase. Or… how to creatively inform alumni that their reserved parking places that have been in the family for generations, are being discontinued so that the school can construct a new kiln for the Art department. Names of alumni that agree to repurchase their seats at inflated prices are handed over to the University Development Office for immediate inclusion in the fund raising effort du jour.

A common technique used by losing institutions is to cloud the record of the past year by introducing a new head coach. Individuals agreeing to take these jobs generally extract huge sums for this. Standing before confused and bewildered fans and players and promising to right the ship by “changing the way we think” and “bringing in a winning attitude” is something that should generate a huge paycheck by itself. Saying this stuff with a straight face takes talent. The Detroit Lions ownership should be taking notice… this is at least something to try.

The university staff at Washington has a unique challenge this year. The abysmal Huskies competed a 0-12 season capped off by a 48-7 shellacking at the hands of Cal – hardly the kind of game one wants to end a season on. At least they played that one in Berkeley. Adding misery to insult, the Huskies perfect record sets a new mark for futility within the Pac-10. The wise old Sage of College Football (your humble author) can’t wait to see how the institution spins this one. The Huskies have already completed their search for a new head coach and have convinced a Mr. Steve Sarkisian to give up some great weather at Southern Cal to take over the Pac-10’s doormat program. The Sage wishes Coach Sark a hearty “good luck.” He may learn to appreciate the fog that rolls into Husky Stadium. It does make players, coaches and the future difficult to see.

The Huskies however, aren’t the only college team with a lot to forget from 2008. And it is indeed time to put the final nail in the 2008 coffin for these teams. Looking ahead, some of these programs will emerge from the ranks of the worst to achieve respectability. Others will trip and fall on their snooters coming out of the locker room for the spring game.

It is will pride then, that the Sage of College Football presents his picks for the worst 10 teams in college football. However, we should first review a few rules. Primarily, only teams that actually harbor any ambition to become BCS qualified or to –gasp- compete for a national championship one day, are included. Secondly, only major conferences are included. When was the last Middle-America or Conference USA team that had a shot at a big time title? The Sage isn’t thinking that Eastern, Central or Western Michigan seriously entertain thoughts of a national championship. So.. without further ado, here are the Sage’s picks for the 10 worst college football teams of 2008.

1. Washington Huskies –
Obviously….The purple dogs of the northwest found a way to get the job done in all games this year, including some monumental defeats to Notre Dame, USC and UCLA. Admittedly these are cherry-picked games, but the soggy doggies of Seattle lost these games by a combined score of 116 to 14. In the process, the poor purple team sent its fans off to Starbucks early in each home game. Even though the Huskies kept a game or two close for a while, they still gave up a grand total of 136 points more than they scored in seven home games this year.

2. Washington State Cougars -
It is usually a good season if the Cougars beat archrival and Pac-10 foe Washington in the annual campaign. Unfortunately for the Cougars, that was their only conference win. Interestingly, the only other Cougar victory occurred back in September against a team from Portland State. The Sage is unsure when the Big Sky Conference boasted its last national contender. The state of Washington deserves a honorable mention in the 2008 FirstWorst rankings this year for producing two of the most dismal gridiron performances in history.

3. Idaho Vandals -
The Sage has endured another season waiting in vain for Idaho to change its hapless name. The name “Vandals” would normally inspire images of a wild hoard sacking villages and carrying off opposing cheerleaders. This team doesn’t provide much - other than a good excuse to carry off a few cold ones from the local Git N Go. The only Vandal victories (admittedly a contradiction in terms) came in games against other awful programs at New Mexico State and Idaho State.

4. New Mexico State Aggies –
The Sage thought that all programs named “Aggies” had been forced into a change by disgruntled alumni. Particularly for anyone that lives within smelling distance of Las Cruces, you know there isn’t a lot of agribusiness taking place there except for the miles of feedlots along I-10. One would think that the school would be anxious to change the name and perhaps try to attract a quality recruit or two. Unfortunately for these Aggies, the 2008 team should have been forced off the field. Despite a decent win against archrival Texas El Paso, the Aggies could only manage more points in games against Alcorn and Nevada.

5. Indiana Hoosiers -
It is alternately a pleasure and a bit of a disappointment to include a Big Ten team in the FirstWorst rankings. One of college football’s most storied conferences boasts a tradition of great rivalries and thrilling games. Unfortunately at Indiana, the rivalry is with the basketball program to see who can attract more fans to a single game. Since Bobby Knight’s departure, even this has become interesting. Still, basketball at Indiana attracts great athletes who might be able to give the football team a good game. Indiana does deserve credit for trying to follow a proven pathway to respectability. After scheduling games with Western Kentucky and someone called Murray State (also from Kentucky) the Hoosiers minimized travel costs in paying someone to visit the school and lose. After a 2-0 start, the Hoosiers returned to reality, managing only one conference win - their Homecoming Game over Northwestern.

6. Duke Blue Devils –
The Bluish Devils have been a favorite whipping boy for the FirstWorst rankings over the years. As they play in one of the monster football conferences, winning seasons are few and far between. However one would think that with all the brain power at Duke, the program should at least compete for something besides last place. To their credit, Duke did manage a couple reasonably good quality wins over Virginia and Vanderbilt. Imagine calling a win over the Cavaliers and Commodores “quality” wins.

7. Louisville Cardinals –
These Cardinals had a really good schedule in their 2008 campaign to get back into the bowl picture. But by giving up nearly 200 points in their last five games they sealed their place in the FirstWorst rankings. The Cards finished strong with a five game losing streak including losses to Syracuse and a 64 to 14 smackdown at the hands of Rutgers.

8. Syracuse Orange –
Teams with singular team names (Orange or in Stanford’s case, ‘Cardinal’) deserve to lose. Football is a team game played by multiple players. Although it may be grammatically correct to call a team a singular name, the practice strays from well established tradition and teams that stray from tradition deserve to get whacked. But we digress… Syracuse did manage to beat #7 Louisville in 2008. They also managed a win over the powerhouse program at Northeastern. For each team, there is one game that justifies the annual season ticket price increase, and Syracuse didn’t disappoint, by delivering a solid effort in an exciting win over Notre Dame in late November. Still one quality win does not a season make.

9. San Diego State Aztecs –
Oh Ouch! A season with wins over Idaho and Nevada Las Vegas doesn’t qualify as a banner year. Still the Aztecs play in San Diego and the recruits that signed up to play there are thanking their lucky stars that they didn’t sign with Buffalo or someplace where it gets cold. And after a loss, Aztec players can still go to the beach and oogle the babes in bikinis. The Aztecs had some decent games on the schedule for 2008 and they came through by losing most of them – including a 21-13 loss to Notre Dame in week two. The Aztec’s best effort came against Brigham Young, in which the Aztecs uncharacteristically delivered a strong road win 41 – 12. Alumni should be looking for their price increases in the mail shortly.

10. Wyoming Cowboys -
Any teams playing in brown home uniforms are going to have trouble on the field. Recruiting players to cold and windswept Laramie is difficult enough without dressing them up in the same colors as –well – the part of the cold and windswept prairie that is used by cows. For many years one of the tallest buildings in the state of Wyoming was the football stadium. And now the Cowboy faithful can expect to pay a bit more for their seats in War Memorial Stadium due to the Cowboys win over (I can’t believe I’m writing this) the Tennessee Volunteers. Granted, UT had a difficult year, but losing to Wyoming? Oweee! Anyway.. the Cowboys managed a top ten FirstWorst finish by managing only one Mountain West win and that over San Diego State.

So the 2008 college football season comes to a close for the programs at the bottom. The offseason will be filled with coaches looking for work and players looking for cheerleaders. No doubt the Detroit Lions coaching staff will be surveying the ranks of FirstWorst schools scouring for players willing to continue their losing tradition.

As college football fans wait for the spring games and look for ways to build false hope for 2009, the Sage will continue to bring you the wild and outrageous side of losing.

Please email your comments to: thesage@firstworst.com
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